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Arizona March 2000 Previous
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Bisbee and Tombstone

Lavender Pit

Bev once again was our chauffeur as we headed out to Bisbee, once the copper mining capital of the US. (Silver, gold and other minerals were also extracted here.) We spent some time looking over the Lavender Pit, a huge, terraced hole in the ground that Judie says used to be a mountain. A placard on the fence pointed out that our modern electrical lifestyle is dependent on the copper mined in places like this...a depressing thought. We've paid a heavy price, and one that most of us are blissfully unaware of until confronted with a massive rape scene like this.

We strolled around town for an hour or so. Bisbee, once a roistering, hard-bitten mining town, is now a tourist attraction and a bit of an artists' colony. We walked through a few small galleries and saw some very nice work, including a pair of fantastically detailed bas relief panels (one is pictured here) with a desert-wildlife motif.

Bisbee bas relief

One place had the most brightly painted, fantastical animals (Guatemalan, I believe) I had every seen. Every one was different and they were all wonderful—brightly colored and whimsical. I'd love to have a whole roomful of them, but of course there's no room...and the prices were out of my range. I regret not having been able to take any pictures of them, but the galleries didn't permit photography—they don't want anybody running home and copying these original works of art, and I can understand that. (The bas-relief panels were on a building exterior, so I felt they were fair game.)

The Queen copper mine was an easy five-minute walk from the center of town—in fact, the mine extends under much of the town, which I gather has led to a chronic problem with streets collapsing. We had been warned in advance that the mine is cold (47° F. year round), so we had on windbreakers. After being bundled into yellow slickers, fitted with white hard hats and having strapped on lead-acid battery packs with lights, we straddled the crude benches on a string of tiny open-frame railroad cars and rode a little narrow-gauge (about 12") electric railroad about a quarter of a mile into the mine.

Our guide was a burly man named Al who had worked in the mines from 1951 until the mid-Eighties. Knowledgeable, funny and informative, Al was the perfect guide. He knew this mine firsthand and really gave us a good idea of what it was like to work underground. The Queen mine was in some ways a rather different environment from the West Virginia coal mine depicted in "October Sky." Although much of the equipment was similar, here there were no toxic fumes or danger of methane explosions as in a coal mine. According to Al, safety was relatively good at the Queen: he only knew of 15 or 16 men who died in mine accidents during the 35 years he worked there.

It certainly was cold in the mine—a pervasive cold that seeped into your bones. We felt sorry for the man in front of us who was wearing shorts! And of course it was dark. At one point Al had us all turn off our lights. Oh, my, but it was black! Pretty soon people started turning on their lights again. Because of the darkness, flash photography was blinding. Not wanting to be annoying, I took no pictures, for which I apologize to readers of this page.

Bisbee Mall\

The mine tour took a good hour and a quarter. Back on the surface, squinting at the bright sunshine, we rejoiced in the warmth. Once our eyes had recovered, we walked back to town and ate at a restaurant in the Bisbee Mall, a small but pleasant indoor mall decorated very attractively in copper colors and trim (of course). The many mirrored walls combined with a starkly geometric interior design and checkerboard floor to make the mall something of a visual puzzle box, as you can see in this picture. I liked the effect, and enjoyed the warmth of the copper trim—something you rarely see elsewhere, where gold and silver are the norm.

The restaurant was a modest Fifties-style soda fountain, but the food was excellent. I had a "Cheesy Sprouty Veggie Burger" on homemade dark rye bread, and topped it off with a truly voluptuous root beer float. We sat and chatted for awhile, enjoying the air conditioning.

Then we headed for Tombstone. The town is heavily tourist-oriented, with streets chockablock with souvenir shops, "stagecoach" rides lurching up and down the street—and most amusing of all, hired actors in none-too-authentic costumes loitering on every corner, trying hard to lend a nineteenth century air to the town's main business of fleecing the rubes.

But the historical displays at the county courthouse were surprisingly interesting. (Tombstone was once the county seat of Cochise County, a distinction now held by Bisbee.) I skipped over the copious and excessively detailed displays about the local hangings (the multiple gallows are still on display outside the courthouse) or the famous shootout at the OK Corral, though I did stop to wonder whether 100 years from now people would make as much of a fuss over some Los Angeles or Harlem street gang rumble. As far as I can tell, that's all this was: a gang fight. I don't get what the big deal was. As in the Fort Huachuca Museum, I was much more interested by the everyday artifacts: combs, brushes, medical instruments, diaries, letters, legal documents and so on.

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